We are deep into the political horse race season. Everyone is asking: Who’s pulling ahead? Who’s trailing? What’s the margin of error? Seems like every day there are new and contradictory prognostications and polling.
This is the time of year that the press and political pundits look for an October surprise. The reality is there have been too many surprises this month and not many of them good. From the President’s order to send armed troops to border communities to fatal shootings in our places of worship to bombs sent to the media and progressive politicians, it so easily feels that the bonds that connect us are fraying.
At their core, these tragedies and tensions are a reflection of a battle that has been waging since the election of Donald Trump over the soul of who we are as Americans and what we are about as a nation. Over who belongs and who doesn’t. The midterm elections will be an important temperature check on where we are in that struggle over America’s core identity.
The sides are clear.
The GOP and Trump continue to double-down on fear, deception and rigging the rules: Blame brown and black people struggling for a better life to distract voters from their true agenda. An agenda that hands out kickbacks to the rich, defunds our schools and threatens us all with cuts to Social Security and health care is deeply unpopular in America. The only way you can get away with taking away the basics from working people is to divert, confuse and lie to them with divisive cultural arguments. When all else fails, resort to rigging the rules of the election through either voter suppression or dumping voters off the rolls.
But there is a sleeper October surprise. There is a quiet revolution happening among progressives on the ground to upend these politics and call out the GOP divide and conquer for what it is – a cynical ploy to get white votes.
At one time progressives believed, as it turned out naively, that just calling out racism and sexism would be enough. From Trump’s election to Brett Kavanaugh’s placement on the Supreme Court, we have learned otherwise. And increasingly, we are instead matching their strategic power play with our own. We are organizing in-person and online to educate voters about this strategic racism, talking to voters about race and class together and presenting positive alternatives rooted in our shared values as a balm to the blame game.
This burgeoning energy is a direct challenge to what I like to call the political industrial complex that treated voters like homogenous units, took them for granted and ignored people of color. It’s an old form of politics that Obama began to challenge, Bernie Sanders exemplified and Donald Trump blew up.
The progressive version of this politics is built on three principles: 1) We only win by adding new people, including infrequent and first-time voters 2) The politics have to be built bottom up, meaning through – authentic messengers in the community; 3) We need to combat fear with hope.
In terms of expanding the voter base, grassroots organizations on both the conservative and progressive sides are trying to take this election into their own hands. Instead of solely talking to and turning out reliable voters, organizers on the ground are trying to reach people who don’t typically go to the polls in midterm, particularly Latinos and young voters.
According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, there is an all-time high 29 million Latinos who will be eligible to vote in this midterm election. The power of these potential voters can swing both the House and Senate, especially in close Senate races in states with big Latinx populations such as Arizona, Florida and Texas, and toss-up House districts where Latinos are a large percentage of the voting population.
These grassroots organizers understand we need to change the underlying math of American elections – the pie of voters needs to get bigger. For example, whoever wins the Latinx vote, the fastest growing voting block, will seize control of American electoral politics for years to come.
Many on the right know this. That’s why the Koch brothers committed $400 million to conservative candidates and issues as a counterbalance to Trump and the Republican Parties. In fact, their political donations far exceed what the Republican Party is putting into these midterm elections.
I am writing this from Florida, in the belly of the mid-term beast, where I am witnessing the beginnings of this revolution up close, a new authenticity in which the conversations are driven by real people talking to real people. When you hear from someone you grew up with or who lives and works in your community, it is inherently more persuasive. Grass roots organizations like New FLorida Majority and FLIC Votes are pounding the pavement at an historic scale – organizers there recently knocked on their millionth door and have engaged more than two million Floridians through phone calls, texting, and online paid digital programs.
Finally, here in Florida, I’m witnessing us fighting for a positive vision, not just against a negative one. For instance, thousands of formerly incarcerated men and women may gain back their right to vote with Amendment 4 on the ballot. Too many families of color have a loved one who has been stripped of their rights; talking to these men and women about what this amendment will mean for their lives is inspiring.
It certainly helps that in a lot of these states and districts we have incredible candidates like Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia who understand that they need to talk about a more hopeful vision that includes health care, child care and a fair immigration system.
When we give potential voters something – or someone – to get excited about, they will show up. Even voters who typically don’t turn out in a midterm election are getting energized this year. With every door-knock, text-message, Facebook ad and phone call, they realize the change they want in their own lives can be brought about by political participation.
It’s a shift that every year has deeper roots and will help progressives win the House on November 6. And even if we don’t get quite enough votes to get over the finish line, the course is set. We have the formula to reach people who will be voters and who will choose a progressive vision for our future.